My family and I have been volunteering at our local food pantry for almost a year and a half now.
Our pantry operates differently than some pantries. First, we're not *just* about food. We also have a recycle boutique where we have clothes, shoes, books, and household goods - basically, whatever people donate.
Second, when it comes to the food, we allow our clients to pick what they will eat. We have two floor to ceiling shelves stocked with non-perishable foods. Clients are allotted a certain number of items off those shelves based on the number of people in their families.
We also have, what we call, "free items." Clients can take as much of these things as they need, and I usually stress need versus want, because they are very different things. No one needs three dozen frosted cookies. They probably don't even need a dozen cookies, but one package is adequate, unless it's a big family, and then ... well, we leave it up to the client, within reason, of course. Very few people are food hoarders. Most people take just what they need.
Sometimes, that's an issue for the pantry, because we have very limited space, and some things just don't keep well - like bread and produce, which we get a day or two past perfection, anyway. Most of our produce is just on that edge when it comes to us. It's the stuff the stores could no longer sell, for whatever reason, and while most of it's perfectly edible, it doesn't last more than a couple of days. When we have a surplus of fruits and vegetables, we strongly encourage everyone who comes through our doors to take as much as they want.
Unfortunately, some people won't take advantage of this offering, because they either don't know what to do with the produce, or they're afraid that they won't use it before it goes bad.
What's terribly unfortunate is that most people see an apple as an apple that needs to be eaten raw or discarded. Apples are apples that can be eaten raw, and they're delicious, but there are also a half dozen other ways that apples can be easily used (apple pie, baked apples, apple turnovers, apple fritters, apple cobbler, apple crisp), but apples are also easily preserved for future use as applesauce (which can be made in a crockpot), dried apple rings, or even juiced to make sweet cider (for kids) or hard cider (for me ... I mean adults).
Preserving food is not difficult, although it can be time consuming. Or it can take only as long as preparing a TV dinner. Sauerkraut takes about twenty minutes to prep. What takes the longest is the slicing. Salting and mixing is quick, and then, it's just a matter of packing it into a container (I use a gallon-sized pickle jar that I bought, filled with pickles, for $4.99). Then, a week of waiting while it ferments, and then, it goes into the refrigerator, where it will continue to ferment (slowly) and improve on flavor and can be stored in the refrigerator or other cool place for up to a year.
Imagine. Storing cabbage in the refrigerator for a whole year.
That's the beauty of preserving, though. We can take these wonderful, fresh foods and turn them into something that we can keep for a long time and eat slowly. So, there's no waste.
One of the things that we occasionally have a surplus of, and which just don't last very long is hot peppers. Personally, I love hot peppers. We add them to soups, my daughter uses them on pizza, I slice them up for stir-fry, and we make a to-die-for homemade salsa. During the summer, it's great, because Deus Ex Machina's uncle has a friend who is, like, the Pepper-Whisperer. He grows dozens of varieties of peppers, and we are, often, the recipient of bagsful of the little gems.
It's a lot to use at one time, and so we've looked for some ways to preserve them for future use - the easier, the better.
I recently found this recipe for Pepper Vinegar, and it looks just exactly like what I need - for my own use, and to share with our pantry patrons when we have too many peppers and no one is wanting them.
It's easy, uses only peppers, salt and vinegar, takes just a couple of weeks to set, lasts up to six months without refrigeration, AND adds a delightful kick to what might otherwise be a dull dish.
So, next time you pick a peck of peppers, pickle them :).
For those who enjoy making Homemade For the Holidays, this little recipe would be great for gift giving.